Monday, May 21, 2007

Army of Athens

By: Michael Akerman

This is not a historical post.

I've played WoW for something around a year now, and I've always been intrigued by the guild system in the game. Many a time have I run into situations where a group of players with some kind of interpersonal ties and expectations of certain behaviors would have been an extremely valuable asset: notably, running dungeons and elite quests would have been a lot easier. Additionally, it would give me someone to talk to while I was out grinding mobs alone (grinding mobs means, effectively, killing monsters for a long time, usually for some kind of rare reward).

For the uninitiated, I should explain the guild system, before I lay out my issues with most guilds, followed by my master plan.

A guild is effectively an organization of players. By joining a guild, you get a bit of text over your head that shows the name of your guild and you get a pane in your social window that shows the members of your guild (having never been in a guild, I don't know precisely how this works). Depending on your guild, you could end up with anything from a total lack of administration, where the guild serves mostly as a pool of like-minded, free-play (casuals, as they are generally called) individuals, to an essentially despotic administration, where the guild leader makes the decisions for the guild and expects the members to perform their assigned role as laid out in the battle plan. This makes for a very effective raiding guild (for hardcore players, the other end of the spectrum from casuals), where, much like in a military, battle roles are laid out: the healer heals, the tank absorbs damage, the DPS people do a lot of damage.

In most cases, these types of guilds are fine. They are not right for me, however. I don't want a freewheeling guild that will never get organized to do any end-game raiding, nor do I want a guild that will force members to participate in end-game raids to stay in the guild. Rather, I want a guild that will respond to the desires of the guild as a whole, that will remain flexible in the face of any events. A historical perspective makes it clear that this is exactly what one wants in the governance of a nation. So, I turned to the governing systems of the past to plan my dream guild. I need a government that will offer both administration and flexibility.

Despotism is right out. Everyone, I hope, recognizes that. There is no flexibility in despotism: the guild succumbs to the will of the leadership. Anarchy is also unwise: there is no governance. Democracy is attractive, but it is slow to react: if every voice must be heard, every voice must be given time to speak. In the large guild that I hope this guild will become, that is prohibitive. So, we turn to the experiments of Athens, and later (and more successfully), Rome. A republic.

This is why the current title of the guild is likely the one I'll keep: the Army of Athens.

To the average reader, it is likely easier to think about America than ancient history. Conveniently, this is as usefully illustrative in this case: America is not a democracy. It is a republic. Representatives are elected to work for the good of their constituents. Every voice is heard by the government through the elected representatives, though every voice need not speak. The will of the populace is carried out without the time-consuming process of town hall-style debate. So, the basic structure is clear: the guild should be a republic or, if you prefer the inaccurate, elementary-school term, a "representative democracy."

The details remain (I shall lay these out more clearly in a second post to which new members will be referred, so they won't have to read my thought process if they don't want to). In order for representatives to execute their duties faithfully, there must be a clear constituency for each representative. These constituencies should have similar challenges and abilities, so no one set of constituents outranks another in the eyes of the representative. In WoW, this delineation seems fairly simple: level-based constituencies. It is clear that certain level ranges have different priorities than others: people of very low level are focused on learning the game, gaining levels, and running the very first instances effectively. Middle levels are focused more heavily on small-group instances. Upper levels begin to focus their attention to raid instances (and the Outland, with the Burning Crusade expansion). These are apparent trends, but they are not necessarily truths for any set of people at a certain level.

This is the beauty of the republic, though. Were I to stand here and say that the low-level representative would focus on leveling, the mid-level on instances, and the upper-level on raiding, the abnormal people (I count myself among them in nearly all of the classifications) would be left out: what of the people who want to run small-group instances at a high level? What of the mid-level people who want to focus on trade skills, and need a network of resources for it?

By dividing the constituency into thirds, a small number of people can impact the politics of the guild. I envision three broad constituencies of around 20 people in each group (clearly, this means at least 63 people must be in the guild, 20 in each constituency with 3 representatives for the plan to come to real fruition, but growth takes time). Classifications would be by low-level (levels 1-23), mid level (levels 24-46) and high level (levels 47-70). As a character grew out of his current level range, he would automatically move into the next one. This creates an admittedly odd situation in that the representatives cover a level range, not a certain group of constituents. I think this is preferable in a situation like WoW, where priorities seem more dependent on level than on the specific people in a group. Of course, if the government as a whole deems this untrue, we amend this virtual constitution to some other form (flexibility, again).

When a group fills, a second grouping in the constituency will form, such that there would be a, for instance, low-level group A and a low-level group B (I think they should be allowed to choose a name for the group when this occurs). The full group will either need to be split at this point, or the new group will simply start with one constituent until more join. This will surely be based largely on the growth rate of the guild, so the decision seems best left to the government as a whole (with careful consideration given to the opinions of the constituents). The exact number to split groups at would also need to be decided by the governing body.

So, there's the nitty-gritty of the constituent groupings. But what is a representative going to be?

Here, I borrow terminology from Plato's Republic because I like the title, especially in the context of the proposal above, though the role the representatives fill isn't the same as in Plato's work. The representatives will be called Guardians, which I think aptly fits their role in their constituency. The Guardians will be nominated by either the guildmembers or themselves, and run in elections. The nominees need not fall into the level category of the constituency, so if the voters so chose, a level 5 character could be the Guardian of the high-level group. A preliminary election will be held within a week of the announcement of candidates in order to narrow the field (think of it like a primary election). The constituents in the group will send their votes to the guild leader (that would be me) via email (I hope to have a website eventually, but I've never set up anonymous voting via a website, so bear with me). The top two candidates will remain in the running. After three weeks (presumably of frantic campaigning), the final vote will be taken. The emails will be tallied, and the winner deemed the Guardian of the group.

The Guardians will act as both the legislative and judicial branch, at least in the early stages of the guild (if everyone is a member of the government, who does the government represent?). Punitive decisions will be based on the rules of the guild, as outlined below and added to by the government as is seen fit. An appeal system will be in place, in which disputed decisions will be allowed to go to the greater governing body before action is taken.

Elections, I think, should be held every three months. There will initially be no term limits, unless the government chooses to amend them to the guild constitution (which doesn't exist yet). Defeated Guardians, or those who choose not to run again, will retire to the Council of Elders, a sort of Senate for the guild. The Council of Elders will consist of all current Guardians (I need to discuss this with the guild members early. Having a double vote throws up warning flags to me), as well as all the retired Guardians still active in the guild. The Guardians will also form a sort of House of Representatives, the Council of Guardians. Clearly, the Council of Guardians will always be smaller than the Council of Elders. Major decisions (raid schedule, rule changes, etc.) will be based on a simple majority in each house. If there is a difference in ruling in each house (that is, the CoG approves a measure while the CoE denies it), the houses will attempt to resolve the disputes in compromise. If this fails, the measure will fail.

Allow me to lay out some facts this implies about Guardians and Elders. Guardians carry judicial power, while Elders do not. This can be seen as a burden or as a boon, depending on the specific person filling the role. The House of Guardians is smaller than the House of Elders, so each Guardian wields more power than each Elder. Therefore, Elders have fewer responsibilities but less of a voice. An Elder can run for a second Guardianship during any election, which would restore both Guardian power and Guardian duties to the Elder.

The final thing I must discuss are the preliminary rules of the guild. These are tenets that I shan't bend on: they must hold for the life of the guild, or there is no guild to me. They are as follows:

1.) Don't be a dick.

This admittedly complex rule set must be the basic foundation of the guild. It implies that the members of the guild will endeavor to be kind to one another in any situation, and to give each other the benefit of the doubt in cases of apparent inability. Remember: one shouldn't blame malice when stupidity will explain the action. Therefore, rather than getting angry at one's guildmate for a perceived injustice or failure to perform adequately, aid him. If you expect him to heal because he's a Priest, discuss this with him. In most cases, you'll find that there are good reasons that he did not do what you wanted (generally, either because he didn't think about it or because he has specifically developed his character contrary to the cause). Resolve disputes in a civilized manner. The punishment for repeated offenses against this rule is banishment from the guild. Since such a drastic measure is to be taken, failure to adhere to this rule will be taken to the Guardian. If found guilty, the case will always go to the Council of Elders (that is, these cases have a forced appeal process). Banishment will only be used on repeat offenders, and will be based on the decision of the council: if you have been clearly malicious in your intent and had reason to understand that your actions would lead to this punishment, you will be removed from the guild. That said, no one will be banished for a first offense against this rule. A warning will be issued, putting the offender in extreme jeopardy should the rule be again unheeded.

This rule is to be the very foundation of the guild: the basis for the existence and governance of the guild. And, if every member follows this rule, and the Guardians and Elders serve in good faith, the Army of Athens can grow to be great: a powerhouse of a guild that maintains the compassion and friendliness it was conceived in, that is fully equipped to help low-level characters while still being flexible enough to execute raids. The guild can grow only as the members see fit. The decisions of the members of the Army of Athens will make or break the guild. I hope the choices are wise.

This post will be summarized later, as I'm aware that it is currently some pretty heavy reading. Besides, most of the procedures need not be known by most guild members, as they can be informed of them when the time comes (elections, for instance).


Michael J. Smith said...

Wow, can you tell I haven't checked this blog in a while? My apologies (although no one commented on my last post either). I can't say I entirely comprehended all of the details of gameplay here. Although I am fond of guilds, the forerunners of the modern labor union. I don't think I'm likely to get too involved in WoW; first it costs too much, though if some mysterious benefactor ::cough, cough:: were to pay my monthly deposit, that would solve that problem. ;) More seriously though, I really don't think I have the time to devote to this, though it does sound like fun.

I do have one minor quibble though: You label ancient Athens a "republic." Rome was a republic, as we are today. Athens was a direct democracy, which is something completely different, both from a republic and your proposed government. Good government system overall, though I would have split decisions between the Council of Guardians and Elders decided by a supermajority in the Council of Guardians. Seems more democratic that way.

Michael Akerman said...

Yeah, but you're a democrat.

Athens had a similar council system, as I recall (I'd check, but some national router seems to be down, as I can't get to Wikipedia or several other sites), to what I've proposed. The difference was that every citizen was expected to serve on it at some point, then moved to the Council of Elders equivalent. It's entirely possible I'm thinking of some other ancient polis, but I'm pretty sure it was Athens. While the majority of governing decisions, especially in the early years, were decided by direct democracy, the councils played a large role in city governance, especially in the later years of whatever city I'm talking about.

Man, I hate not having Wikipedia.

Michael Akerman said...

I should have said you're a Democrat, not a democrat.

Michael Akerman said...

Turns out I was thinking of both Athens and Sparta (but more Sparta. Maybe I'll change the name, except Sparta is associated with a military focus).

Athens had a boule, which was a legislative council of citizens. (

Sparta had the Apella and the Gerousia, basically a council of citizens and a council of elders, respectively. (